Elevated lead exposure in a significant number of US children is going undetected, says report
Until a few weeks ago, I’d not considered the problem of lead contamination as something I should worry about personally. This, despite the fact that I live in a house built in the 1930s with old doors and windows with lead paint. We replaced those a few years ago and the renovations were done in keeping with US Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. So that, I thought, was the end of it. Lead in the water supply, which I’d researched when the Flint, Michigan crisis began became public, wasn’t much of an issue in the California Bay Area.
Photo by Support PDX/Flickr
But then, just as 2016 drew to a close, I read the Reuters investigation that found almost 3,000 communities across the United States with lead contamination worse than Flint. The investigation, based on a review of public health data from 21 populous states, found that many of these lead hotspots are receiving little attention or funding for clean ups or health screening. Soon after, on January 9, I came across another report, this time by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF), a coalition of 450 health and environmental groups, which pointed out that there is no uniform nationwide policy for screening children for lead contamination across the country.
Lead is a well-known toxin that can have serious health impacts, particularly on the development of the brain and nervous system. Its impact on children is associated with problems that are extremely costly to society, including learning disabilities, socialization issues, and violent behavior. Lead residue is ubiquitous in our environment, especially in urban areas. While the metal has been banned from household paint and gasoline for some time, there are numerous remaining sources of exposure, including paint in older housing, water service lines and plumbing, contaminated soil, and several continuing commercial uses.
“The highest risk areas are where you have a confluence of old housing and low income residents who may not have the resources to maintain the property so you end up with deteriorated lead-based paint and bare soil, which can also then create lead dust that children are exposed to,” …more
EPA staff are ‘nervous’ after the president-elect promised to reduce the environment agency to ‘tidbits’
There is “nervousness” among Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff that Donald Trump’s incoming administration will sideline science and reverse action on climate change, according to the agency’s outgoing administrator, Gina McCarthy.
Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program, Flickr
McCarthy told The Guardian that the Trump administration would face resistance from multiple fronts if it ran counter to a widespread shift to renewable energy, as well as scientific opinion, by rejecting climate science and attempting to bolster the fossil fuel industry.
Trump has promised to reduce the EPA to “tidbits” and has nominated the Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, to run the agency. Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times over its pollution regulations, has questioned established climate science and has been criticized by environment groups for his ties to oil and gas interests.
“People at the EPA will be respectful of the new administration but they will continue to do their jobs,” said McCarthy, who was appointed by Barack Obama in 2009 to head the regulator. “I would not be telling the truth if I said there was no sense of nervousness. There is a sense of nervousness that the new administration will take decisions not in line with the science.”
“If they don’t take notice of the science, we will be back to where we were before the last president. We’ve done everything we can to not only reduce greenhouse gases but also send the world a message about the seriousness of the issue. I hope the rest of the world realizes that the vast majority of people here accept that seriousness and that we will remain part of the international action regardless of what the new administration does.”
Trump has previously threatened to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement but Rex Tillerson, his pick for secretary of state, said last week that the new administration still wanted a “seat at the table” during the climate talks.
EPA action to reduce emissions appears more likely to be axed, however, with the new president expected to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which sets emissions standards for coal-fired power plants, and do little to enforce regulations that curb pollutants from mining and transportation.
But McCarthy said even if the federal government reverses course on climate change, progress will …more
Lack of enforcement of hazardous waste disposal regulations a major factor
Imdadullah Khan routinely rifles though a garbage bin in front of Lady Reading Hospital, in Peshawar, Pakistan. “I am looking for used syringes, drips, needles in the garbage so that I can sell it and earn money for my family,” says the 25-year-old waste-picker, who has been engaged in this business for 15 years. Khan earns about $5 a day by selling what reusable medical refuse he collects from garbage dumps across the city to scrap dealers.
Photo by Ryan Ryan
Khan wasn’t aware of the grim fact that he’s at high risk of contracting a lethal disease just by dint of his profession. According to Pakistan’s environment ministry, the country’s healthcare facilities generate nearly 250,000 pounds of medical waste per day. Much of this untreated waste is dumped at regular municipal garbage sites, leaving waste-pickers like Khan extremely vulnerable to exposure to infectious diseases and toxins.
The management of medical waste — refuse generated by hospitals, laboratories, clinics and other healthcare institutions that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids, radioactive materials, or other potentially infectious materials —requires special care and attention. It’s usually recommended that all medical waste materials be segregated at the point of generation, and appropriately treated and disposed of safely. But, in Pakistan, where solid waste management is already a matter of major concern, unsafe disposal of medical waste is further exacerbating the problem, impacting the environment and health of tens of thousands of people.
According to WWF Pakistan, very little of the country’s medical waste is handled according to international standards. Part of the problem is that that Pakistan doesn’t have a well-established waste segregation system and most healthcare facilities, whether public or private, either don’t have adequate knowledge about how to dispose of medical waste or don’t bother follow standard guidelines.
Medical waste from healthcare institutions is often being dumped in the open and mixed with municipal waste, says Rahman, an environmentalist and retired professor of Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Peshawar. He says that such unregulated dumping of medical waste not only pollutes the environment, but also contributes to the spread of certain diseases by exposing health care workers, waste handlers, patients and the community at large to toxins and infections such as hepatitis, diarrhea, food-borne illnesses, skin infections, tuberculosis, and …more
Ten countries that protect their environment and respect human rights
The year 2016 brought many challenges, and a sense of loss to many people. Many of us will begin the new year wondering if the world – already girdled by too many borders and conflicts – will become a less welcoming place for some of us to travel.
Paradoxically, though, it’s times like these when travel is critically important. Nothing, as Mark Twain pointed out, shatters our prejudices and preconceptions more effectively than visiting foreign countries – or parts of our own country that seem foreign to us. Few activities are more useful than visiting these places with an open mind, and remembering that the humanity we share is stronger than any attempt at wall-building.
photo by Danielle Pereira / Flickr
Today, more than ever, the people on this small and singular planet recognize how interconnected and interdependent we are. This becomes strikingly clear when we travel. We become both courageous and vulnerable; an unusual combination that makes us open to (and dependent on) random acts of generosity, sudden friendships, and the spontaneous invitations that Kurt Vonnegut Jr. called “dancing lessons from God”.
Every journey, if we wish it so, is a series of surprises. A life-changing encounter could be waiting in any museum, café or train car. It’s during times like these – when those in power seem most intent on accentuating our differences – that we instinctively express our solidarity. Whether we are traveling to Chile or China, to Mongolia or Mexico, we recognize the opportunity to unravel the knot that Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters defined in three words: Us and Them.
But travel is more than an opening for good will. It is one of the world’s most powerful economic engines, and can drive the way countries treat their citizens, indigenous peoples, wildlife and the environment. Travel is the world’s largest industry, with a trillion-dollar annual footprint. This means that travelers have enormous power. Where we put our footprints has reverberations reaching far beyond our personal experience. By “voting with our wings” – choosing our destinations well and cultivating our roles as citizen diplomats – we can help to change the world for the better.
Every year, Ethical Traveler reviews the policies and practices of over one hundred developing nations. We then select the ten …more
Problem exacerbated by climate change, which has plants and animals moving beyond their historical ranges
While heading to the Bear Lake parking lot in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was aware of the preserved, splendid wilderness in all directions. The road meanders from civilization in Estes Park, Colorado, to the deep environs of a vast wild land that sits 9,475 feet above sea level. My goal for the day was a hike from Bear Lake to the Fern Lake trailhead, a trek of nearly 10 miles that allows hikers a chance to experience cascading waterfalls, high peaks, and dense forests.
Photo by Justin Ratcliff
Breaking a sweat and taking in the environment were the objectives, but I would not have been opposed to some wildlife sightings. Elk, bighorn sheep, and moose are common distractions in the park, resulting in traffic jams and selfie-taking tourists attempting to snag a closer look. Perhaps an elusive mountain lion or black bear would be in the cards — from a safe distance, of course. In reality, the largest species I saw was a pika, a small mammal that looks like a cartoon mouse with adorably large ears. However, unbeknownst to me at the time was that one species could have be seen on the hike, and if the sighting occurred, it would have been a rare and historically inappropriate encounter.
Defenders of Wildlife estimates there are 100,000 mountain goats in North America. The shaggy, cliff-dwelling mammals are often found in the northern Rockies in and around Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. However, on occasion, a mountain goat will stray into the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and then the National Park Service has a predicament on their hands. The goats are listed as a nonnative species for the park, but because they were introduced in the Mount Evans area by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the animals sometimes travel north and enter the national park, according to the RMNP website.
When a goat is found in Rocky Mountain, disease spread to the native bighorn sheep becomes a real possibility. “We’ve had a couple of instances where we’ve seen mountain goats come into Rocky Mountain National Park,” said John Mack, acting chief of resource stewardship for RMNP. “To tell you exactly where they came …more
Residents are making themselves heard about the disputed Bayou Bridge pipeline
Scott Eustis did not stop smiling for hours. The coastal wetland specialist with the Gulf Restoration Network was attending a public hearing in Baton Rouge. Its subject was a pipeline extension that would run directly through the Atchafalaya Basin, the world’s largest natural swamp. Eustis was surprised to be joined by more than 400 others.
Photo by Matt Northam, Flickr
“This is like 50 times the amount of people we have at most of these meetings,” said Eustis, adding that the proposed pipeline was “the biggest and baddest I’ve seen in my career.”
The company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), had seemed to turn its attention to Louisiana just one day after Native American protesters thwarted the company’s Dakota Access project last month.
A spokeswoman for ETP, Vicki Granado, said the Bayou Bridge pipeline extension was announced in June 2015. If approved, the project will run though 11 parishes and cross around 600 acres of wetlands and 700 bodies of water, including wells that reportedly provide drinking water for some 300,000 families.
At the public hearing in Baton Rouge on Thursday, the first speaker, Cory Farber, project manager of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, said it was expected to create 2,500 temporary jobs. When Farber then said the project would produce 12 permanent jobs, the crowd laughed heartily.
“Those who have airboat companies and equipment companies that specialize in putting in equipment, they’re not opposed to pipelines because of the short-term jobs,” said Jody Meche, president of the state Crawfish Producers’ Association, one of dozens who spoke at the hearing.
“But once that pipe is in there, the jobs are gone.”
Other attendees applauded in favor of the pipeline, and former US senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a supporter, was in attendance. But Native Americans also dotted the crowd, many of them fresh from Standing Rock.
“The Native Americans in North Dakota get a lot of credit for showing people their power,” Eustis said.
Protester Cherri Foytlin, organizer of the pro-sustainability Bridge the Gulf project, brought her teenage daughters, Jayden and Erin. In November, Erin and 20 other kids from around the country filed a lawsuit against the federal government for ignoring …more
DNA bottlenecks, inbreeding make animals susceptible to disease, says “Fox Guy”
Bill “Fox Guy” Leikam hopes the most recent chapter in the story of the Silicon Valley urban fox is not the beginning of a tragedy for connecting healthy ecosystems. As reported by the San Jose Mercury News last week, up to 18 urban gray foxes belonging to four different “skulks,” or groups, that Leikam has studied and researched over the last seven years in Palo Alto, California, died last month of canine distemper – a contagious viral infection with no known cure.
photo © Bill Leikam
This is the first time in recent memory that local wildlife observers have seen such a big wildlife die-off. “We have 12 fox carcasses and six more that are missing and presumed dead,” Leikam, , founder of the Urban Wildlife Research Project, told Earth Island Journal. “[December] was like a dark wind carrying the virus as it swept through, taking all of the foxes throughout the region and possibly even up into East Palo Alto. “
The gray fox, a small, tree-climbing member of the canid family, is one of the few wild carnivore species that seems to have successfully adapted to living in and around big cities, though it still faces many threats. A small population of these urban-dwelling canids, comprising several skulks, have captured the hearts of residents and researchers in California’s Silicon Valley, including Leikam who has been researching their role in the local ecosystem as well as the challenges urban habitats present to grey foxes.
It’s hard to pin down the exact number of foxes living in the South Bay Area. Leikam says they seem to be living in “pockets” and regions from south Redwood City, south through Alviso and up the eastern side of the Bay to at least the southern edge of the Oakland International Airport. They have also been spotted in the foothills of Los Altos, Saratoga, and on south.
photo © Bill Leikam
Watching animals die from distemper – especially animals you have studied and protected and know by name – is not something “I …more